Russian spy activity has reached Cold War levels, say Germany’s intelligence chiefs

Thomas Haldenwang Bruno Kahl

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITY in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, while espionage methods by foreign adversaries are now more brutal and ruthless, according to the country’s spy chiefs. These claims were made by Thomas Haldenwang, who leads Germany’s Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), and Bruno Kahl, head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), which operates externally.

The two men spoke to the Sunday edition of Die Welt, one of Germany’s leading newspapers. Their joint interview was published on June 6. Haldenwang told Die Welt am Sonntag that the presence of Russian spies on German soil reflects Moscow’s “very complex intelligence interest in Germany”. Accordingly, Russia has “increased its [espionage] activities in Germany dramatically” in recent years, said Haldenwang.

The counterintelligence chief added that Russia has a “large number of agents” that are currently active in German soil. Their goal is to try to “establish contacts in the realm of political decision-making”. One of many topics that the Kremlin is intensely interested at the moment is the future of Russia’s energy relationship with Germany, according to Haldenwang.

At the same time, Russia’s espionage methods are becoming “coarser” and the means that it uses to steal secrets “more brutal”, said the spy chief. Kahl, his external-intelligence colleague, agreed and added that Germany’s adversaries are “employing all possible methods […] to stir up dissonance between Western states”. Their ultimate goal is to “secure their own interests”, concluded Kahl.

However, despite Russia’s increased intelligence activity in Germany, the most serious threat to the security and stability of the German state is not Moscow, but domestic rightwing extremism, said Haldenwang. Notably, the German spy chief discussed the unparalleled rise of rightwing rhetoric on social media and websites. Such propaganda is being spread by people that he termed “intellectual arsonists”. Their “hate-filled messages” are essentially anti-democratic, said Haldenwang.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 June 2021 | Permalink

German army officer led double life as Syrian immigrant, planned to kill politicians

Franco AA GERMAN ARMY LIEUTENANT, who led a double life as a fake Syrian refugee, has gone on trial in Frankfurt, accused of planning to kill German politicians so as to provoke anti-Arab sentiment among Germans. The man has been identified by the German media as “Franco A.”, 32, due to strict German privacy laws. He lived in France, where he served in the Franco-German Brigade, an elite military force that combines units from the French and German armies, and is meant to symbolize Franco-German rapprochement in the postwar era.

In 2016, Franco A. approached German authorities and pretended to be a French-speaking Christian from Syria, having first dyed his beard black and darkened his complexion using make-up. Using the name “David Benjamin”, he convinced German immigration officials to provide him with temporary identity papers and grant him asylum in Germany. He also received a monthly allowance from the German state. In 2017, however, Franco A. was arrested in Vienna while trying to retrieve a loaded pistol he had hidden in a public bathroom. When searching his room at the Franco-German Brigade barracks, police discovered Nazi-era memorabilia. Further searches at his parents’ home in Germany uncovered stockpiles of ammunition and explosives.

German prosecutors now allege that Franco A. belonged in a secretive network of far-right German survivalists, whose members planned to take armed action on a day they referred to as “Day X”, which would mark the beginning of a civil war in Germany. Additionally, Franco A. is accused of having stolen ammunition from his barracks, and of keeping a list of possible victims for assassination. The latter included the German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas and Claudia Roth, a member of the German Green Party, who currently serves as Vice-President of the Bundestag —Germany’s federal parliament.

But the plot thickened once German authorities realized that Franco A.’s fingerprints matched exactly those of the Syrian immigrant, David Benjamin. They then realized Franco A. and David Benjamin were one and the same person. According to government prosecutors, Franco A. planned to kill at least one senior German political figure, then leave the gun bearing his fingerprints at the scene of the crime. His goal was to have the fingerprints match those of his fake Syrian identity, and in doing so stir anti-Arab sentiment among the German population.

During his court appearance on Thursday, Franco A. denied being a neo-Nazi, and claimed that the reason he posed as a Syrian refugee was because he wanted to “expose the flaws in Germany’s asylum system”. He faces 10 years in prison, if convicted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 May 2021 | Permalink

Lawmaker with CIA background urges US spies to monitor foreign far-right groups

Elissa SlotkinA MEMBER OF THE United States Congress, who previously worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, has called for foreign white supremacist groups to be closely monitored, warning that they have ties to American militants. Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, of Michigan, wrote in a letter that the US should apply the label of “terrorist organizations” to a number of foreign white supremacist groups. She argued that the move would allow US authorities to take more aggressive measures against supporters of such groups inside the US.

Prior to being elected in Congress, Slotkin was an intelligence analyst for the CIA analyst. While at the CIA, she made use of her language fluencies in Arabic and Swahili, while also serving three tours in Iraq. Throughout her tenure in Congress, which began in 2018, Slotkin has shown considerable interest in national and international security affairs.

Last Friday, Slotkin reportedly sent letters to the Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, and to the new Director of the CIA, William Burns. In her letters, Slotkin urges for a significant increase in the intensity and sophistication of intelligence collection against foreign white supremacist organizations. She argues that the CIA and the FBI must “prioritize resources” so as to collect more, and better, information on these organizations. According to Slotkin, American far-right militants could rely on their existing connections with foreign white supremacist organizations, so as to receive training and resources. These could enable them to carry out attacks in the homeland.

Earlier in April, Slotkin had sent a similar letter to the leadership of the Department of State, urging for more emphasis to be paid to efforts to designate white supremacist groups operating abroad “foreign terrorist organizations”. This would equip the US government with more powers to collect evidence on, and prosecute, Americans who have links with such foreign groups. However, to officially label a foreign organization “terrorist”, the Department of State must first be in possession of significant evidence from intelligence channels.

Thus, Slotkin’s letter to the FBI and the CIA aims to provide the Department of State with intelligence that will allow it to label such groups “terrorist”. In April of last year, the US government designated the Russian Imperial Movement a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” (SDGT) organization. The move marked the first time in history that the US Department of State formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 May 2021 | Permalink

High-security trial of neo-Nazi group that wanted to spark civil war begins in Germany

AMIDST EXTREMELY TIGHT SECURITY, the trial of 12 members and supporters of a secretive neo-Nazi group that planned to destabilize society and spark a nationwide civil war has begun in the German city of Stuttgart. According to the indictment, the goal of the group, which calls itself “Gruppe S”, was to “shake and ultimately topple the state and social order” in Germany, in order to “spark a civil conflict”.

In accordance with German law, the accused have been identified in the media by their first names and last name initials only. All are German citizens, between the ages 32 and 61. It is worth noting that one of them is a police officer in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He is accused of supporting the group by offering €5,000 (nearly $6,000) for them to purchase weaponry in the illicit market. Another member of the group, who has not been arrested and remains at large, is being tried in absentia.

According to authorities, Gruppe S members had around 30 firearms in their possession, which they were using to train in preparation for war. All firearms were reportedly unlicensed. Shortly prior to their arrest in February of last year, Gruppe S members were reportedly preparing to purchase a Kalashnikov assault rifle and at least one Uzi submachine gun, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades.

It is believed that the investigation that led to the arrest of Gruppe S members begun after an informant came forward and alerted the authorities. This person is now believed to be the government’s chief witness, and is living under police protection. The trial is being conducted inside the Stammheim super-maximum security prison complex in Stuttgart, which is the same prison that housed the leading members of the Red Army Faction urban guerrilla group in the 1970s. The Gruppe S trial is scheduled to conclude in August.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 April 2021 | Permalink

Domestic extremism quickly ‘metastasizing’, US intelligence report warns

US Capitol

A MAJOR INTELLIGENCE REPORT produced for the United States Congress and the White House warns that violent extremism by ethnically and racially motivated militants is “metastasizing”, and “will almost certainly” result in further attacks in 2021. The report was produced by the National Counterterrorism Center of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. A declassified version of the report was released online, shortly after the White House and Congress were given a classified briefing on the matter.

The report —the first of its kind to be issued after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol Complex, points to threats from several strains of domestic violent extremism, ranging from environmental activists to animal rights extremists, anarchists and adherents of far-right ideologies. It states, however, that by far the greatest threat to public security is presented by ethnically and racially motivated violent extremists, in combination with armed militias. These groups “will almost certainly” grow more active in the coming months, due to a number of economic, political and social factors. Their members are feeling emboldened following the January 6 attacks, and social media are allowing these groups to expand their presence among the population. Widespread conspiracy theories about last November’s presidential elections are also fueling rightwing armed militancy, according to the report.

The same can be said about the economic pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns, which anti-government extremists view as the imposition of tyranny by a government that should be overthrown. These kinds of social disruptions “will almost certainly” fuel further violence this year, according to the report. Members of domestic extremist organizations are currently exchanging ideas on methods of violence, and devising “innovations in targeting and attack tactics”, it adds. Additionally, white supremacist groups appear to rely on “the most persistent and concerning transnational connections” of any type of domestic violent extremist organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 March 2021 | Permalink

German court blocks intelligence agency’s plan to spy on far-right party

BfV GermanyA GERMAN COURT HAS temporarily blocked an attempt by the country’s intelligence service to place a domestic far-right party under government surveillance for the first time since the Nazi era. The far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD, was established in 2013. It shocked the German political establishment in 2017, when it received nearly 6 million votes, which amounted to 12.6% of the national vote. Since then, however, the AfD has been shunned by other political parties and the German media, for its alleged links with neo-Nazi groups and sympathizers.

Last week, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel revealed that the country’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), had launched an operation to place the entirety of the AfD under surveillance. The purpose of the operation was to assess whether the party is part of a concerted campaign to undermine the German system of government and the constitution. According to Der Spiegel, the BfV decided to launch a surveillance campaign against the AfD following the conclusion of a two-year investigation into the legality of the party’s political platform and activities.

The BfV plan would enable the spy agency to monitor the AfD’s telecommunications, keep tabs on its officials, members and supporters, and investigate the party’s finances for foreign or illicit sources of income. The BfV’s proposed plan marked the first time that a German political party would become the target of systematic surveillance by the state since the Nazi era.

But a court in Cologne has now placed a temporary halt on the BfV’s plans, following a number of legal cases and emergency motions filed by the AfD against the plan, according to reports in the German media. The party reportedly argued that being placed under surveillance by the state would prevent it from competing fairly in elections against other political parties that were not targeted by state surveillance. On Friday, the court concluded that the BfV could not initiate its surveillance of the AfD until the party’s legal challenges against the measure had concluded. This means that the BfV plan is currently suspended until the courts decide on the case. It is not known at this time if the BfV intends to appeal the court’s decision.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 March 2021 | Permalink

White nationalists accosting disillusioned Trump and QAnon supporters, experts warn

US Capitol - IAWHITE NATIONALISTS IN THE United States are launching a concerted effort to recruit disillusioned supporters of former President Donald Trump, as well as adherents of the QAnon conspiracy, according to experts who spoke to The Financial Times. Their efforts have been prompted by the mass exodus of Trump and QAnon followers from mainstream social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, in recent months. Trump has himself been barred from these online platforms, and his supporters have been urging the former president’s followers to join social media, such as Parler, Gab and Telegram, which are seen as friendly to conservatives.

Many of the former president’s most ardent supporters are convinced that Trump was cheated out of office, and are increasingly issuing calls for an uprising against the government, and even secession. Meanwhile, followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement are in disarray following Trump’s election defeat. Trump’s exit from the White House directly contradicted a major prediction adhered to by QAnon supporters. They were convinced that Trump would remain in office and fight a war to the death against a cabal of Satanist cannibals who supposedly control America.

According to experts, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right campaigners are finding fertile ground among the millions of disillusioned Trump and QAnon supporters, who are flooding into the non-mainstream corners of the social media universe. They warn that far-right activists are consciously and systematically infiltrating pro-Trump and QAnon online groups, in an attempt to “draw the remnants of these movements towards the extreme right”. These attempts appear to have been intensified after January 20, when Joe Biden was inaugurated president, experts told The Financial Times.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 January 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Emergence of an armed insurgency is now a distinct possibility in the US

US CapitolWITH DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON RESEMBLING a large military encampment, a repeat of last week’s shocking assault on the Capitol Complex is highly improbable. But America could witness escalating levels of violence across many states, as supporters of the January 6 insurrection continue to organize themselves into a coherent armed movement. Their ability to threaten American national security will depend on whether they can overcome major internal divisions. It will also be determined by the speed with which United States authorities will respond to the rise of what is quickly becoming a dangerous militant movement.

Supporters of the nationalist insurrection that shook the nation on January 6 could possibly return to Washington in time to make a show of force during the Inauguration of Joe Biden. Intelligence reports by US federal agencies mention as many as 17 separate events being planned in the nation’s capital by a variety of militant groups. If these events materialize, the US is likely to witness the largest armed protests in its history. Other gatherings —many of them involving armed militants— are scheduled to take place in all 50 states between January 16 and 20.Q Quote 1

The militants who will descend on Washington in the coming days are unlikely to engage in all-out hostilities against as many as 20,000 members of the US National Guard. The latter have reportedly been given clear rules of engagement, which include the use of lethal force against assailants. The command and control capabilities that are needed to seriously threaten a 20,000-strong professional army, make it unlikely that the insurrectionists will attempt such a suicidal mission. Nevertheless, the possibility that one or more small groups of die-hard militants will descend on Washington determined to engage in direct combat against the US military should not be disregarded. Their chances of a martial victory are extremely slim, but victory can also be achieved through what their supporters will interpret as heroism and —ultimately— martyrdom.

What is far more likely to happen is that the insurrectionists will engage the forces of the government asymmetrically —that is, by resorting to strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare. Such scenarios are more likely to materialize in the coming months, or even years, in the countryside of so-called ‘red states’, where some supporters of President Donald Trump may be willing to help the insurgents by giving them protection and cover. Read more of this post

Analysis: Potential espionage aspects of attack on US Capitol must be considered

US CapitolTHE INSURGENTS WHO STORMED the United States Capitol Building Complex on January 6 may have unwittingly provided cover for teams of foreign spies, who could have stolen or compromised sensitive electronic equipment. This largely neglected security-related aspect of the attack is discussed in an insightful article by David Gewitz, a ZDNet and CNET columnist who writes about cybersecurity affairs.

Hundreds of unauthorized people entered the US Capitol last Wednesday. Many of them entered the offices of several members of Congress, some of whom are members of Congressional committees on intelligence, armed services, defense, and other sensitive matters. According to Gewitz, “there is absolutely no knowing what actions were taken against digital gear inside the building” by the intruders. Most of them were clearly members of disorganized mobs, who appeared to have no concrete plan of action once inside the Capitol. However, points Gewitz, it would have been easy for foreign actors to blend in with the crowd of wild-eyed rioters and surreptitiously entered the Capitol in order to steal or compromise sensitive electronic equipment.

In addition to stealing electronic equipment, foreign spies could have stolen sensitive documents, access codes and passcodes, says Gewitz. He adds that more sophisticated efforts could have included loading malware onto Capitol computer systems, or plugging surreptitious USB drives into the internal ports of tower PCs —a process that takes less than two minutes for someone who is equipped with an pocket-size electric screwdriver. Foreign actors could also have left dozens of “generic USB drives in various drawers and on various desks” around the Capitol, hoping that members of Congress or their aides will make use of them in the coming days or weeks. For all we know, says Gewitz, the place could now be riddled with USB chargers with built-in wireless key-loggers, devices that look like power strips but actually hide wireless network hacking tools, fake smoke detectors, electric outlets or switches that contain bugs, and many other surreptitious spying devices.

What should Capitol security personnel do to prevent the potential espionage fallout from the January 6 attack? Gewitz argues that, given the extremely sensitive nature of the information that is stored in the Capitol’s digital systems, federal cybersecurity personnel should “assume that ALL the digital devices at the Capitol have been compromised”, he writes. They will therefore need to resort to “a scorched Earth remediation effort”, meaning that they will have to “completely scrub” those systems, and even lock the USB drive slots of every PC in the building complex. This damage will take months, even years, to clean up, he concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2021 | Permalink

FBI, NYPD forewarned Capitol Police of serious violence by Trump supporters

US CapitolTHE FEDERAL BUREAU OF Investigation and the New York Police Department gave Capitol Police officials specific warnings that supporters of United States President Donald Trump were determined to engage in serious violence on January 6, according to federal officials. The FBI even made contact with known far-right radicals across the United States in early January, and warned them not to travel to Washington for the pro-Trump rally that resulted in the bloody attack on the US Capitol, according to NBC News.

Citing “senior law enforcement officials”, including “a senior FBI official”, NBC reported on Sunday that the FBI had “credible and actionable information” about specific far-right radicals who intended to join the protest on January 6. This information was allegedly communicated to Capitol Police officials, according to the report. The senior FBI official, who is not named in report, told NBC that the Bureau made contact with those radicals and warned them not to travel to Washington for the protest. Citing “multiple law enforcement officials”, the news network also said that the Capitol Police was given extensive intelligence by NYPD about planned acts of violence on January 6. The intelligence was “specific”, “detailing the threats and extremist rhetoric on social media”, according to the news network.

Despite these warnings, however, Capitol Police reportedly turned down an offer of assistance by the US National Guard three days before the fateful siege of the Capitol Building Complex by thousands of pro-Trump insurgents, many of whom were armed. According to the Associated Press, despite the advanced and detailed warnings given to it, “the Capitol Police planned only for a free speech demonstration”.

Meanwhile, the experts warning of a significant risk of widespread violence on January 20, when President-Elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be sworn into office, are growing in number. On Sunday, Cindy Otis, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and vice-president of the Alethea Group, which tracks online threats, warned that “we are in a tinderbox situation right now”. She pointed to numerous threats made online, which claim that last Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol was “just a taste of things to come”. There are reports that far-right insurgents are preparing for a violent showdown in DC, aimed at preventing Biden from entering the White House on January 20. Other reports suggest that groups of insurgents seek to organize synchronous potentially violent rallies in every state of the union that day.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 January 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: US Capitol attack marks the beginning of a prolonged period of insurrection

Rightwing militancy 2021IF WEDNESDAY’S ATTACK ON the United States Capitol Complex was part of a coup d’état, then the American political system should be considered safe for the time being. The mob that ransacked the Capitol was disordered, leaderless, and appeared to have no coordination, or even direction. However, the broader militant movement that it represents is evolving very rapidly. If left unchecked, it will be able to turn its weaknesses into strengths and spell major trouble ahead for the already stormy waters of American politics. The nation’s law enforcement and security agencies must therefore prepare for a period of widespread insurrection, some of which will be armed and lethal in nature. Insurrectionist acts are likely to occur across the nation, and may last for months, if not longer.

WHO CARRIED OUT THE ATTACK?

Wednesday’s attack was carried out by what can be described as the militant wing of the American nationalist-populist movement. This wing is not strictly representative of the US president’s broader political base. Its members see themselves as vanguard soldiers who are prepared to take extreme action to avert President Trump’s imminent departure from the White House. Such militant attitudes are not typical among Trump voters. Yet this vanguard is revered by Trump’s political base, a sizeable portion of which appears to be in support of Wednesday’s attack on the US Capitol. Indeed, early polling by YouGov suggests that over 40 percent of Republican voters strongly or somewhat support the attack on the US Capitol.Q Quote 1

Many members of this frontline force belong to organized militant cells, like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and —more recently— the Proud Boys. But these groups provide limited operational direction to their members, and were certainly not commanding Wednesday’s events. In fact, an audiovisual analysis of the attack shows that most of the assailants operated in makeshift groups and many didn’t even know each other’s names. There were no leaders directing the attacks on Wednesday. It is indeed likely that the militant figureheads of the movement were as surprised by the turn of events as the hapless members of the US Capitol Police.

HOW WAS THE ATTACK PREPARED?

Many of the assailants were armed with tactical equipment, as well as with clubs, shields, chemical irritants, knives and other weapons. It also appears that at least one group of insurgents arrived at the Capitol with ropes, which they subsequently used to scale its walls. This points to earlier planning and coordination, which likely involved at least some reconnaissance. Read more of this post

Christchurch shooter used commercial drone to spy on targets, court told

Christchurch shootingAn Australian far-right militant, who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019, used a commercial drone to spy on his targets and plan his attack months in advance, according to newly released information. On March 15, 2019, Brenton Tarrant killed a total of 51 people at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, in the city of Christchurch. Using an AR-15 rifle, Tarrant, 29, shot his victims one by one, before being stopped by police as he was on his way to a third mosque in the area.

Shockingly, Tarrant livestreamed the killings on Facebook from a GoPro camera he had previously attached to a helmet he wore during the attack. The livestream lasted for over 17 minutes, until Facebook moderators terminated the broadcast. The attack marked the worst mass murder in the history of New Zealand, and led to several new pieces of legislation, including strict gun control policies, which have since come into effect. Meanwhile, a manifesto that Tarrant wrote while planning his attack, titled “The Great Replacement”, has become wildly popular among neo-Nazi and other far-right circles worldwide.

According to revelations made public during Tarrant’s trial this week, the 29-year-old far-right militant planned his attacks for months, using sophisticated technology at every opportunity in the process. The prosecutors told the court that Tarrant made use of a commercially available drone to film the grounds of at least one of the mosques, which he later attacked. He allegedly used the drone footage to study the entry and exit points of the building and to carefully map his arrival and departure. He also made use of Internet applications and databases to study maps and the buildings themselves, as well as visuals of the insides of the mosques, prior to launching his attack. According to the prosecutors, Tarrant also studied Islamic religious customs and practices so as to ensure that the mosques would be packed with worshipers when he launched his armed assault.

According to the Australian Financial Review, which published this information, the use of technology by Tarrant to plan his attack was previously unknown to the public. It was revealed earlier this week in court, as prosecutors discussed it openly for the first time. Yesterday Tarrant was sentenced to life in prison without parole, becoming the first person in the history of New Zealand to receive such a sentence. Tarrant reportedly showed no emotion during the court proceedings.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 August 2020 | Permalink

European neo-Nazis attended paramilitary training camps in Russia, article claims

UkraineMembers of neo-Nazi groups in Germany attended paramilitary training camps in Russia, which were organized by a group that the United States has designated a global terrorist organization, but which the Russian government has not banned. If true, these claims add further credence to the view that Russian far-right groups are becoming increasingly central in the worldwide network of racially motivated radical organizations.

The report was published on Friday by the German magazine Focus, which cited German “intelligence sources”. It said that the training camp was known in far-right circles as “Camp Partizan”, and was organized by a group calling itself the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM). As intelNews has reported previously, most RIM members are believed to be based in St. Petersburg, which is also the base of the group’s armed wing, the Imperial Legion. Most active members of the Imperial Legion are believed to have served in the Russian military.

Although it has been in existence since the early 2000s, the RIM drew considerable attention to its political platform after 2014, when it began to train groups of volunteers who then joined Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. In a surprising move last April, the United States added the RIM to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) groups. That designation marked the first time in history that the US Department of State formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization. The Department of State said at the time that the RIM had “provided paramilitary-style training to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Europe”. The statement cited two members of the far-right Swedish Resistance Movement (SMR), who were later convicted of carrying out a string of bombings targeting immigrants in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

Now, according to Focus, there is evidence that among Camp Partizan trainees were German rightwing extremists, who were members of two banned groups, the National Democratic Party and The Third Path. Members of these groups traveled to the outskirts of St. Petersburg, where they were allegedly trained in combat and were taught how to use makeshift weapons and explosives. Members of far-right groups from Scandinavia were also trained in the camp, and were able to use their skills as members of pro-Russian separatist militias in eastern Ukraine, according to Focus. The magazine said that the RIM’s armed wing , the aforementioned Imperial Legion, has a group of fighters in Ukraine.

Vice News reported last week that no Americans are believed to have received training in Camp Partizan. However, the website claimed that one of the organizers of the infamous 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is believed to have developed ties with the group, and even welcomed a RIM delegation to the US in 2017. Vice News spoke to intelligence experts from the Soufan Group who said that the RIM is emerging as “a critical node in the transnational white supremacy extremist movement” and that the Russian group is “going beyond networking and ideology, and is actually providing paramilitary training”.

The RIM’s relationship with the Kremlin can be described as complicated, and at times adversarial. The organization is openly critical of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which it accuses of being too liberal and too lenient on non-white immigration. However, the government in Moscow did not prevent —some argue it even facilitated— the group’s role in training Russian volunteers to join separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. The Russian government has criticized RIM views as extremist, and has at times arrested RIM members. However, it has not banned the group as a whole.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 June 2020 | Permalink

DHS warns of rise in attacks by violent extremists amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus COVID-19The Department of Homeland Security has warned law enforcement departments across the United States that violent extremists are mobilizing against health restrictions imposed to combat the novel coronavirus. This is the third warning known to have been issued by the DHS in the past month about the potential of violence by domestic violent extremists, as America continues to battle the pandemic.

The latest warning was issued on Thursday, April 23, in the form of a memorandum, which was communicated to law enforcement personnel throughout the US. The memorandum was marked ‘unclassified/law enforcement sensitive’ and was accessed by Politico, which reported on it on Thursday. It comes as a self-styled ‘Liberate’ movement is forming in several American states, which aims to pressure government officials to end lockdowns across the country.

The memorandum states that “recent incidents and arrests nationwide illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic is driving violent actors —both non-ideologically and ideologically motivated— to threaten violence”. It goes on to cite arrests of violent extremists who have issued threats against elected and appointed government officials. There have also been threats made against government facilities, including police stations and federal buildings, by people protesting the lockdowns.

A man, described in the DHS report as an “anti-government extremist”, was arrested earlier this month after he threatened to kill the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Grisham, over her decision to impose ‘stay at home’ orders. Another man was arrested in Florida after he threatened to take action against the COVID-19 lockdown by blowing up the headquarters of the Orlando Police Department. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered a plot by a white supremacist and anti-government radical to blow up a medical facility in the Kansas City, Missouri, area. On March 23, the DHS issued another report stating that American white supremacists were exploring ways to weaponize the coronavirus as early as January.

The latest DHS memorandum warns that the danger posed by domestic violent extremists will continue to escalate “until the virus is contained and the normal routine of US societal life resumes”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 April 2020 | Permalink

Belgian spy agencies say radical groups trying to exploit COVID-19 to sow chaos

VSSE GISS BelgiumThe two main intelligence agencies of Belgium have published a declassified report in which they warn that domestic groups on the far left and far right of the political spectrum are using the COVID-19 pandemic to destabilize society. Among other things, these groups are spreading disinformation in order to incite violence and spread disillusionment with the Belgian authorities’ response to the coronavirus, according to the report.

The report (pdf) was published on Wednesday on the website of the State Security Service (VSSE), Belgium’s primary civilian intelligence agency. The agency said it co-authored the report with the General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS), which is the main military intelligence service of Belgium. The document warns that political extremists are spreading disinformation —some of it produced and distributed online by foreign intelligence agencies— that propagates unfounded conspiracy theories. The disinformation is designed to turn groups of people against each other, undermine the state and spread hatred against medical experts.

Among the most active distributors of disinformation is the Brussels page of the worldwide anarchist website Indymedia, says the report. Earlier this month, posts on the page urged Belgians to commit acts of violence targeting police officers, and to sabotage infrastructure such as telecommunications, which can disrupt the work of first responders and other emergency workers. Posts on the page also urged readers to act quickly “while law enforcement is busy” with the pandemic.

Groups from the far-right are also active in spreading race-themed disinformation online, according to the VSSE/GISS report. For example, a white nationalist group calling itself the Knights of Flanders has been promoting conspiracy theories that connect COVID-19 with flu vaccines. Other groups have posted information claiming that Muslims have been instructed by religious figures to “cough in the faces of infidels”. Some far-right groups are claiming that personal protective equipment is deliberately being made scarce as part of a secret government plan to intimidate the population and exterminate elderly people.

Finally, a small number of —mostly far-right— groups is spreading messages that criticize Western responses to the coronavirus pandemic and praise the Russian government’s efforts to combat the disease. Among them is a new organization known as “Squadra Europa”, which has branches in several European countries, including Belgium, said the report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 April 2020 | Permalink